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The stone at the entrance of Christ’s tomb was found rolled away on Easter Sunday morning, but Christians must roll away the stone that is “the lack of hope that imprisons us within ourselves,” Pope Francis said Saturday.
The pope presided at the Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, leading the Catholic Church worldwide in its celebration of the resurrection, capping a week in which he washed the feet of refugees and compared Jesus’ death to present-day realities such as war, migration, terrorism and religious persecution.
Francis sought to combat a growing sense of fear and despair in a world marked by war and terrorism.
The rite began in the atrium of St. Peter’s with the blessing of the fire and the preparation of the Paschal candle. This is followed by the procession to the altar with the lighted Paschal candle and the singing of the Exultet, followed by the liturgy of the Word. During the liturgy of baptism, the pope administered the sacraments of Christian initiation to 12 persons from Italy, Albania, Cameroon, Korea, India and China.
In his homily, he traced the effect of the Good News on St. Peter, the prince of the apostles, who had much reason for despair in the days following the crucifixion and his own denial of Christ.
“There is, however, something that signals a change in him,” the pope said. “After listening to the women and refusing to believe them, ‘Peter rose.’ He did not remain sedentary, in thought; he did not stay at home as the others did. He did not succumb to the sombre atmosphere of those days, nor was he overwhelmed by his doubts. He was not consumed by remorse, fear or the continuous gossip that leads nowhere. He was looking for Jesus, not himself. He preferred the path of encounter and trust.
“And so he got up, just as he was, and ran toward the tomb from where he would return ‘amazed,’” the pontiff continued. “This marked the beginning of Peter’s resurrection, the resurrection of his heart. Without giving in to sadness or darkness, he made room for hope: he allowed the light of God to enter into his heart, without smothering it.”
Christians today must have the same spirit of hope as Peter did upon first hearing that Christ had risen from the dead. It is not, the pope emphasized, merely a spirit of optimism.
“Christian hope is a gift that God gives us if we come out of ourselves and open our hearts to him,” he said. Nor is Christian hope the absence of problems. It is, rather, “the certainty of being loved and always forgiven by Christ, who for us has conquered sin, death and fear.”
Below is the homily delivered by Pope Francis during the Easter Vigil Mass:
“Peter ran to the tomb” (Luke 24:12). What thoughts crossed Peter’s mind and stirred his heart as he ran to the tomb? The Gospel tells us that the 11, including Peter, had not believed the testimony of the women, their Easter proclamation. Quite the contrary, “these words seemed to them an idle tale” (v. 11). Thus there was doubt in Peter’s heart, together with many other worries: sadness at the death of the beloved Master and disillusionment for having denied him three times during his Passion.
There is, however, something which signals a change in him: after listening to the women and refusing to believe them, “Peter rose” (v. 12). He did not remain sedentary, in thought; he did not stay at home as the others did. He did not succumb to the sombre atmosphere of those days, nor was he overwhelmed by his doubts. He was not consumed by remorse, fear or the continuous gossip that leads nowhere. He was looking for Jesus, not himself. He preferred the path of encounter and trust. And so, he got up, just as he was, and ran towards the tomb from where he would return “amazed” (v. 12). This marked the beginning of Peter’s resurrection, the resurrection of his heart. Without giving in to sadness or darkness, he made room for hope: he allowed the light of God to enter into his heart, without smothering it.
The women too, who had gone out early in the morning to perform a work of mercy, taking the perfumed ointments to the tomb, had the same experience. They were “frightened and bowed their faces,” yet they were deeply affected by the words of the angel: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (v. 5).
We, like Peter and the women, cannot discover life by being sad, bereft of hope. Let us not stay imprisoned within ourselves, but let us break open our sealed tombs to the Lord so that he may enter and grant us life. Let us give him the stones of our rancour and the boulders of our past, those heavy burdens of our weaknesses and falls. Christ wants to come and take us by the hand to bring us out of our anguish. This is the first stone to be moved aside this night: the lack of hope that imprisons us within ourselves. May the Lord free us from this trap, from being Christians without hope, who live as if the Lord were not risen, as if our problems were the center of our lives.
We see and will continue to see problems both within and without. They will always be there. But tonight it is important to shed the light of the risen Lord upon our problems, and in a certain sense, to “evangelize” them. Let us not allow darkness and fear to distract us and control us; we must cry out to them: the Lord “is not here, but has risen!” (v. 6). He is our greatest joy; he is always at our side and will never let us down.
This is the foundation of our hope, which is not mere optimism, nor a psychological attitude or desire to be courageous. Christian hope is a gift that God gives us if we come out of ourselves and open our hearts to him. This hope does not disappoint us because the Holy Spirit has been poured into our hearts (cf. Rom. 5:5). The Paraclete does not make everything look appealing. He does not remove evil with a magic wand. But he pours into us the vitality of life, which is not the absence of problems, but the certainty of being loved and always forgiven by Christ, who for us has conquered sin, death and fear. Today is the celebration of our hope, the celebration of this truth: nothing and no one will ever be able to separate us from his love (cf. Rom. 8:39).
The Lord is alive and wants to be sought among the living. After having found him, each person is sent out by him to announce the Easter message, to awaken and resurrect hope in hearts burdened by sadness, in those who struggle to find meaning in life. This is so necessary today. However, we must not proclaim ourselves. Rather, as joyful servants of hope, we must announce the Risen One by our lives and by our love; otherwise we will be only an international organization full of followers and good rules, yet incapable of offering the hope for which the world longs.
How can we strengthen our hope? The liturgy of this night offers some guidance. It teaches us to remember the works of God. The readings describe God’s faithfulness, the history of his love towards us. The living word of God is able to involve us in this history of love, nourishing our hope and renewing our joy. The Gospel also reminds us of this: in order to kindle hope in the hearts of the women, the angel tells them: “Remember what [Jesus] told you” (v. 6). Let us not forget his words and his works, otherwise we will lose hope. Let us instead remember the Lord, his goodness and his life-giving words that have touched us. Let us remember them and make them ours, to be sentinels of the morning who know how to help others see the signs of the Risen Lord.
Dear brothers and sisters, Christ is risen! Let us open our hearts to hope and go forth. May the memory of his works and his words be the bright star which directs our steps in the ways of faith toward the Easter that will have no end.